As rivalry week comes to a close, what does the CFP picture look like now?

As rivalry week comes to a close, what does the CFP picture look like now?


Jim Harbaugh and Michigan ended their drought against Ohio State and will be No. 2 in the rankings.
Image: Getty Images

It took 10 years for Michigan to beat Ohio State, and what feels like another 10 years in college football has passed since the Wolverines finally claimed their first-ever spot in a Big Ten championship game.

Lincoln Riley fell on his sword at Oklahoma after doing the unthinkable and losing Bedlam to Oklahoma Sta— oh, wait, no, he just bailed and took the USC job. Even that wound up being overshadowed, though, because on Monday night, Brian Kelly peaced out of Notre Dame for LSU, but not before assembling his now-former team for a 7 a.m. meeting on Tuesday, the ultimate in “this could’ve been an email.”

All of this before the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings come out on Tuesday evening, the thing that we’re here once again to talk about…

Jesse Spector: I think at the moment, it’s the same four teams as last week, except Michigan goes to No. 2 where Ohio State was. Georgia on top, and they probably still make it Alabama at 3 and Cincinnati at 4 so that it’s not “lined up” as an SEC title rematch in the 1-4 game, but that’s just a placeholder anyway, because Bama is dropping out with a loss to Georgia, or the whole thing gets shuffled if the Tide wins on Saturday in Atlanta. But, at No. 5… well, I think you may have some thoughts on this?

Grace McDermott: Well first of all, I’m not sure Alabama does remain at 3 after that disastrous quadruple overtime against an unranked Auburn team — I’ll say, they did not look playoff ready on rivalry Saturday. And as for the question of No. 5 — it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a pool this narrow where the committee won’t really get a choice of who goes in, assuming all two-loss teams are out of the running. After this week, there are only six legitimate contenders with one or zero losses, and I think that there’s a case for No. 5 for both Notre Dame and Oklahoma State. But this Brian Kelly drama is giving me terrible flashbacks to the Manti Te’o news — maybe there’s enough recovery time, but with their head coach blindsiding them (and everyone) by leaving right before a potential playoff run, I worry about their focus and ability to perform in a potential playoff game. It pains me to say it, but after Bedlam, I give No. 5 to Oklahoma State.

Jesse: I agree that Alabama could drop behind Cincinnati, but it’s bookkeeping to a certain extent, and I’m not too worried about it. I think Saturday is when we’ll see how playoff ready Alabama truly is, because I don’t think the Iron Bowl is representative of anything much, especially when it’s at Auburn. That’s just like, “okay, Alabama, your task is to get out of here without getting your season ruined.” They did that… so now Georgia can ruin their season instead, probably. Oklahoma State did jump Notre Dame in the AP poll already, and that was before the Kelly news, so, maybe? I still see the Irish having properly destroyed everyone on their schedule in November, and the Cowboys having looked like a whole lot of middle-of-the-pack Big 12 teams by going down to the wire with Oklahoma, the difference of course being that OSU won. If you put them at No. 5, I think it’s saying, “you’re in if you beat Baylor (assuming one of the top 4 other than Georgia loses),” and I still have a hard time seeing the committee give one-loss Oklahoma State a spot over one-loss Notre Dame — especially when there’s going to be galactic buzz around ND with a coaching search, or a new coach in place, and these guys are all about the ratings, more so than getting the best teams on the field together.

Grace: Ugh, the ratings. You’re 100 percent right, but as a CFB purist, the “ratings” talk bugs the hell out of me, especially when the argument goes that everyone wants to see Alabama in, no matter what. I think if Notre Dame is able to name a new or interim head coach in time that has a legitimate shot of continuing in the direction the Irish have been heading all of November, maybe that gives them more of a chance. And I have to say, this Oklahoma State team has really surprised me, but like almost every other team, getting that No. 4 spot would be an all-but-immediate death sentence. It’s interesting how late we are in the season right now and yet how little tonight’s rankings will actually matter, with all the championship games next week putting everyone but Notre Dame’s record on the line. I have to say — at this point, I want Cincy to see a playoff bid, and I’m worried about this Houston game for them. I’m less worried about Michigan-Iowa, despite the fact that if you’d told me a month ago that Michigan would be in the CFP this year, I would have laughed out loud.

Jesse: It always came down to Michigan beating Ohio State, and they actually did it, which I did not believe this was the year for. Finally getting that win and then losing to Iowa would be hilarious, but they’re really so similar and Michigan is a better Iowa than Iowa, or Iowa is a worse Michigan than Michigan. The Wolverines should win that. But… what if they don’t? And Oklahoma State loses, too? And (gulp) Cincinnati? Very unlikely that all three happen, but, playoff-bound Baylor? What would it be? Georgia, Notre Dame, Baylor… Alabama? Ole Miss? PITT?

Grace: Now we’re talking!! I love this scenario. I think that Alabama gets a 3-seed in that situation, because the committee loves them and that way they wouldn’t just automatically rematch Georgia. And yeah — I think it’s two-loss Baylor in the fourth spot there. As much as I’d love to see Pitt, Baylor does have a better strength of schedule and would have beaten both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in this daydream, so I think that they’d be the unlucky team on the Georgia chopping block. By the way — I love how through all of this insane drama, Georgia has just been chilling at the top, letting everyone else fight it out below them for who’s going to inevitably lose to them in the title game. A real no-stress year for the Dawgs in a year that is nothing but stress for everyone else. I don’t think Ole Miss makes it over two-loss Bama, and I definitely don’t think they let one-loss Cincy in, although they technically should.

Jesse: It’s too bad our beloved UTSA lost to North Texas, because this scenario would be perfect for Playoff Meep Meep, but alas. Yeah, Cincinnati has to win to get in, even if everyone else loses. I think we’ll get at least one upset on Saturday, because that’s how this season has gone, and maybe it won’t wind up being so easy for Georgia to just waltz to the title in the end, but you’re right, it sure has been pleasant for them so far. I do worry about the team that hasn’t faced any kind of real stress all year, because sometimes they don’t know how to react. I always thought Clemson (remember Clemson?) benefitted at playoff time from those slow starts to the season where Boston College would hang with them until the fourth quarter, and everyone would be like, “wow, what’s wrong with Clemson?” and then five weeks later they’d be beating everyone by 30, but with some banked experience of having to dig through stuff. But for now, it’s certainly Georgia’s to lose.

Grace: The end of the Meep-Meep revolution was the great tragedy of rivalry week. And you’re right, they may be shocked to face a legitimate contender, but I think that they’ll be able to make a halftime adjustment if necessary. For now, my top four are Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati, and Alabama, with Oklahoma State and Notre Dame in that order as the next two out. After that…it’s Ole Miss, Baylor, Ohio State, and Oregon closing out my top ten.

Jesse: I agree with your top four and the order, but think the committee still slots Bama at 3 and Cincy at 4 tonight, again, not that it particularly matters because of what happens in five days. I’ll stick with Notre Dame at 5, then Oklahoma State at 6 and Baylor at 7. Ole Miss, Oregon, and Ohio State to close it out — remember the Ducks do have that head-to-head win over the Buckeyes, not that the committee seems to care about that, which is kind of back where we started from a few weeks ago!

Grace: I am just so looking forward to this weekend!





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Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.